Historic Houses of Romania checking out the forts of Bucharest

I undertook, some month ago, an exploratory trip around Bucharest, visiting a number of the more accessible forts and batteries built in the late c19th in the reign of King Carol I. That was in the perspective of organising there a specialist history and architecture tour (by appointment only) in one of the week end days next month (October ’11). The designer and supervisor of those huge military works, some of the largest in late Victorian Europe, is the Belgian general Henri Alexis Brialmont, famous also as a designer and builder of the first modern fortifications that defended Liège and Antwerp in his home-country. The remarkable defence complex surrounding Romania’s capital, now disused and left unmaintained, stretches over a circumference of 72km, containing a series of 18 forts placed at a distance of 4km from each other with another 18 batteries placed in between the forts. Bellow is a gif composition photograph of me posing inside Popesti fort in the south-east of Bucharest’s fortification ring, location marked with a red circle in the second image. The third image is a Google Earth satellite view of the city, on which the fort ring is marked, while the last image is a scheme of one of those forts.

You are invited to register your interest in visiting some representative examples of these forts and batteries in the comments section of this article or by email-ing me (v.mandache@gmail.com). VM

The forts of Bucharest: the author in the underground of Popesti fort, SE Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Bucharest forts sketch map (source: “Fortificatia Permanenta Contemporana”, by D.I. Vasiliu, Revista Geniului, Bucharest 1934) – location of the above photographic composition is marked in red.
The ring of forts and batteries that once were meant to protect Bucharest: masterpiece of general Henri Alexis Brilamont. View from 35.0km altitude.
Bucharest fort type I (source: “Fortificatia Permanenta Contemporana”, by D.I. Vasiliu, Revista Geniului, Bucharest 1934)


I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.


If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Vauban and bastion fortresses in Romania

The impressive Vauban citadel structures of the 17th – 18th century warfare era, with their characteristic star shape and diamond profile bastions, are usually associated with Western Europe defence architectural tradition perfected by the great French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).

Less well known is the fact that remarkable Vauban type fortresses are also encountered in South East Europe, within the territory encompassed today by the state of Romania, which throughout history has been a borderland between conflicting powers that came into contact in this region.

In the 18thcentury the Ottoman Empire, the erstwhile hegemon of the Balkans came to blows with the advancing Habsburg and Russian empires in the lands between the Carpathians Mountains and the river Danube, where the principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldova, historic provinces of Romania, are located. I describe that very peculiar geopolitical situation as a triple junction point of empires. The convergence of three competing powers within those territories had a powerful influence not only on local military architecture, causing the Vauban fortress type to be widely adopted, but has also produced the odd mix of western and oriental civil architectural styles encountered in today Romania.

I will be presenting here some of the most representative such historic military architectural structures using satellite images from Google Earth, endeavouring to complement them in the foreseeable future with photographs taken in situ, as I will travel throughout Romania and visit those places. The map bellow indicates the location of the citadels mentioned in the article.

Romania's region: a "triple junction point" of empires where the continous state of warfare in the 18th century made necessary the construction of many Vauban type fortresses (like the one refered to in this article and circled on the map)
Romania’s region: a “triple junction point” of empires where the continous warfare between the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires in the 18th century made necessary the construction of Vauban type fortresses (circled locations are refered to in this article)

* Austrian fortresses

Austria incorporated in 1699, after the conquest of Ottoman Hungary, the autonomous Transylvanian principality and its adjacent areas (Partium, Banat). The virtually continuous warfare in this borderland with the Turks and the necessity to firmly secure the territory, determined the construction of strong Vauban fortresses to protect main towns and reinforce strategic points along the advancing front line. Thus one of the oldest and most impressive such fortresses was erected between the years 1714-38 in Alba-Iulia (Hungarian: Gyulafehérvár, German: Karlsburg) the ancient capital of the principality.

The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738
The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738. View from 1.9km altitude.

The citadel surrounds the old Roman city of Apulum, one of the oldest continuously settled places in Romania, and its grid of streets sill preserves the Roman layout. The Austrians even used blocs of stone from the old Roman defence walls.

The city of Cluj (Hungarian: Kolozsvár, German: Klausenburg) was, as the seat of the Transylvanian parliament, the Diet, also provided with a Vauban fortress at practically the same Read more